Tuesday, 20 October 2015

2015 Fundraiser Doo and Bickton Expansion

The Avon Roach Project Annual Fundraising Event was held on the weekend of the 3rd and 4th of October, and what an event it was...
In short.... Fab’ doo, brill’ bunch of attendees, amazing list of auction lots, excellent grub, wonderful atmosphere, a nice lot of money raised to ensure the future and continuing effectiveness and, dare we say it, success of the Avon Roach Project.... and Budgie nearly didn’t make it.
However, far be it for us to do anything ‘in short’ so here is the long version (The very long version – even Google is going to creek at the seams...)... Please forgive us for possibly the longest blog with the greatest number of pictures in one hit in history, but it seems that ARP events are like busses – you wait ages for one, then a whole pile arrive at the same time – we hope you enjoy your ride on this one. We have.
As you will know ‘anxiety’ is our middle name. We can worry about not having enough to worry about, so you’ll not be surprised to hear that our stress levels are in orbit leading up to each annual fundraiser doo. This year was no different, other than being taken to a whole new level in the final week, which we’ll come to.
In June we send out a hundred and twenty something invites, then worry because we only get a handful of returns and a spattering of emails; so we get to thinking - Maybe the project has run its course, maybe the fundraiser format has run its course, maybe everyone has moved, or maybe they have all joined the Foreign Legion just to be rid of us.
We then get to writing, emailing, phoning and visiting as many potential auction lot donors as we can think of with cap in hand and fingers crossed.
Six weeks later a polite reminder is then sent to everyone on our database which prompts just a slight rustle of interest so we resign ourselves to the possibility that we’ll have to make do with a dozen attendees (including us and the waitresses) and we’ll have to buy all the auction lots ourselves......... Feeling sorry for us yet?
Then, as happens every year, the last six weeks sees the list of attendees pile up to nearly seventy; with some offering additional auction lots and wonderful messages saying they wouldn’t miss the event for the world..... Phew!
Our stress levels are still sky-high as we like to make sure everything is just perfect; lots catalogues, final letters, fishing and parking permits, fishery maps, kitchen sinks, so the time leading up to the doo always seems to gather speed and the list of things to be taken care of grows faster than we can cross them off.
Then for the week prior to the event we gear ourselves up for the final push; dotting all the t’s and crossing all the i’s... So imagine our grief when Budgie was admitted to hospital with chest pains on the Tuesday.
Just for the record – The doc’s said he had suffered a ‘cardiac incident’ and assured us it was ‘miniscule’ but were taking extra precautions due to his circumstances.
Then having had all pain removed with ‘an aspirin’ Budgie wondered why he was not simply discharged there and then. He tried to explain to the consultants that we had a fundraiser event to organise and being in hospital was very inconvenient and would jeopardise our final preparations, but they didn’t see it as he did.
The long and the short of it is that he had a stent fitted to a narrowed artery on Friday afternoon, was discharged from hospital on Saturday afternoon and arrived home at 1:30pm; just enough time for us to gather all the auction lots, catalogues, raffle prizes, pens, pads and pacemakers, and get to the hotel and begin setting the room up at 4:00pm............... Now do you feel sorry for us?
For the fishing match on the Saturday a low, clear river meant that, predictably, the fishing was patchy, but there were some nice fish and good numbers taken from throughout the stretches fished, and we are delighted to be able to boast yet again that roach featured in the catch returns for the third consecutive year. We are also pleased to be able to say that the match was won, for the first time, with a roach of one pound seven ounces, taken by long-time project supporter Mark Everard. The roach is likely to be one of the remnant population and not one of ours as even our first released will not have reached this size as yet (won’t be long though).
We would like to thank Southern Fisheries, Christchurch Angling Club and Ringwood and District Anglers Association for letting us use their stretches of the Avon for our match and in particular Chris, Steve, Ian, John and Phil for being there to welcome and guide the anglers and help out on the day.
The evening was once again AMAZING. The feel-good factor is off the scale, and we still have to pinch ourselves sometimes. We’ve come a long way from the days of sponsored haircuts, busking and bob-a-job...
The food was as good as we have ever had and the list of auction lots was said to be probably the best ever, with some kindly donated items being rare, irreplaceable gems of angling history.
It’s very humbling to think that while the core project is a local one, the people in the room supporting us and ensuring our future are from as far afield as London, Surrey, Sussex, Oxford, Devon and even Manchester, would you believe?
It’s always a little worrying (there we go again) having a room full of people and a table full of auction lots and hoping that the bidding on each item reaches a respectable level; not necessarily for the project but for those kind folks who have donated them, and other than a few exceptions the whole affair was quite remarkable. And seeing almost everyone in the room going away with at least something, be it a signed book, a rod, day guided fishing, a reel or even something from the raffle table gives us a real feeling of fulfilment and gratitude and makes Trev’s poignant end of evening speech a pleasure and honour to deliver.
We do, however, already have something to set us worrying about next years’ event as when we went to sort the menu out at the hotel for this year we tried to book next year for the usual first weekend in October, but unfortunately had already been beaten to it by a classic car club, and with our auctioneer Roy unable to make the second weekend the 2016 event has had to be booked for the last weekend in September the 24th. Guess what we’ll be thinking when we don’t get much response from the first invite mailing?
This years’ event raised a staggering £6,300, and it is this unbelievable generosity and support along with the other outside donations we receive that continues to enable so much within our project. Not only are we able to take care of all the day to day running costs, but are able to think on a far grander scale than we could ever have imagined. The Avon Roach Project is now far more than just growing fish and some folks are crediting us with helping to highlight the wider needs of rivers such as the Hants Avon.
We continue to advise and be a leading example to a growing list of similar projects, and not only roach related ones, throughout the country.
Closer to home, we continue to be involved in the ongoing habitat restoration initiatives, vital for the continuing recovery of the river, and even closer to home, we mentioned in our previous blog posts that we have our eye on the reinstatement of the lake at the head of our stews at Bickton.
The main excavation was scheduled to take place in September, but we postponed this until October as we hadn’t cleared enough of the trees and banks, which we had spent the previous winter, spring and summer doing. However, we are pleased to be able to boast that the diggers went in on the 8th October and a week later we had our lake.
We gave ourselves just one week to come up for air and catch our breath after the fundraiser weekend before plunging headlong straight back into the thick of it.
While we maybe a pair of ‘eco worriers’ we march on with shed-loads of blinkered self belief and determination which is fuelled each year by the attention we get at the fundraiser doo, and fanned almost every week by the fantastic comments and messages of support we get.
We’ll leave ‘our lake’ to slowly fill over the coming winter, then introduce some adult roach next March.
Below is what we said about it in our last blog post, which fits in here perfectly...
‘We will be able to generate a full and healthy, and relatively self-sustaining, population of roach through seeding it with various ages and sizes of our own fish. We’ll also deposit a few adults each year from the other stews just to keep the gene pool strong.
With luck and good management the roach should naturally proliferate in the lake and we’ll be able to net and crop off a percentage every few years for release into the river as they increase their own numbers, as well as collecting considerable amounts of spawn each year for depositing and hatching directly into the river.
As we do with our annual releases and spawn relocation anyway, we will do the same with what we crop from the lake and deliver to various locations far and wide, and through adult and juvenile displacement and migration along with the larval drift from the hatching of tens of thousands of eggs, the entire river will, over time, be touched by our efforts, including stretches we don’t have direct access to.
This lake will add yet another substantial string to our bow. It could turn into our very own little silver mine..... So, fingers crossed.
We might have to defend against the local otters and herons, but we know we’ll not be hindered by any snakes in the grass...
Once again we’d like to thank our great mates at the Environment Agency for their fantastic advice and support with this; also for choosing us as one of the recipients of a generous donation from the ‘EA Fisheries Improvement Fund’ through rod license income to help with habitat restoration initiatives along the river through the Avon Roach Project. Isn’t it nice to know that an element of rod license income can be channelled directly back into the environment through organisations such as ours. Talk about money well spent...
We’d also like to extend our special thanks to Dickie Howell who comes along and helps almost every week at Bickton. He is a fantastic asset to the ARP.
As we sign off now, our next job (other than to walk around our lake a lot) is to get the health checks done on the fish in our stews ready for another release next March.
Us two ‘Eco Worriers’showing almost no signs of stress – other than the glazed expressions and the buckets of sweat...

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Just some of the amazing auction lots.

Our display stand telling the story and showing pictures of the best year yet. It is among even more auction lots.... and yes that is a ‘Light Sabre’ on the table that was given for auction. However, it came without batteries. I’ll bet Luke Skywalker always carried spare batteries.... Goodness; just what is a Jedi to do...?

Mark steps up to receive the match winner’s trophy, but as usual Trev made sure it wasn’t a straight forward presentation.

Then Roy kicked off the auction and our heart rates quicken – it was enough to give a man a ‘cardiac incident...’

Trev then closes with his usual project update and list of thanks – and a very non PC gag. Still no signs of stress though, you’ll notice; other than it looks like the hotel sprinkler system has gone off all over him...

The things we have to do to get the auction lots for these events... Every year we take an afternoon out and have lunch with our dear friend Chris Yates who has supported us since before day one, and who always gives us a typical ‘Yates’ bag of goodies to auction each year. He said if this carries on he’ll end up having to strip the wallpaper as there’ll be nothing left to give. I’m sure we’ll get a few bob for that too if he signs it...

The habitat work on the river continues, and this is just a tiny section of what will end up a huge reopening of the braided channels, ditches and streams at Sopley; possibly some of the best fish fry and juvenile habitat work we have seen so far on the river. The work is set to continue into 2016, and will have a biennial maintenance program thereafter.

Only through the funds raised at our annual events and the overwhelming belief and support given to us are we able to see this overgrown, tree-tangled, boggy mess as having enormous potential for growing shed-loads of roach.

Sometimes our dogged determination and, some might say fortitude and even vision stifles any feelings of foreboding; but who in their right mind would consider trying to do anything with this – other than us two nut-jobs?

Late winter and the tree clearance was underway. The intention is to take the trees to a manageable height and deal with them on an annual maintenance basis rather than simply leaving them to shade the lake and dump half a ton of leaves every year.

Midsummer and we needed to get a small digger in the lake to cut drainage channels to help dry out the boggy black silt enough for the main excavation later in the year.

Meanwhile, tree clearance continued – and we had some proper ‘boys’ bonfires. And we had our own shed delivered (top right of picture) so we can house all our stuff like tools, fish food and of course Kelly kettle, tea and biscuits.

Then the main excavation started, but it hadn’t drained as much as we’d hoped. It was going to be very sticky.

It was pretty gooey but the diggers made short work of it; and every second of the way we were thinking‘blimey, this is Avon Roach Project at full pelt.’

The digger drivers from local firm ‘Groundwise Ltd’ really knew their stuff and levelled the lake bed perfectly and made sure the drainage channel was filled with good blue clay –about as waterproof as a welly...

On the Thursday, our great mate Gerry Higham (right) was in the area taking up an auction lot he’d won at last years’ fundraiser event, which was fishing for the week at Burgate and staying at Burgate Cottages courtesy of another great ARP supporter John Stallard. He was spending the week with our good friend Hugh Miles and as the cold north easterly winds were keeping them from the river bank until the afternoon, they came along for a grand tour of Avon Roach Project world – and what a day to choose – diggers and mud action everywhere. Gerry said it blew him away.

Of course, the visit had to include tea. Trev doesn’t need much encouragement to spill the HobNobs. And notice everyone is wearing one of our new Avon Roach Project embroidered hats.

The diggers put the final touches to the surrounding ground and we’re almost done.

Job done... The winter will make it look a lot messier and we have some work to do to repair some of the surrounding ground, but if we hear the old omelette and egg cliché one more time we’ll murder someone.

These are just some of the little fellows who will be helping to kick-start this next exciting phase of the project in March 2016. And as we have said, the roach growing and spawn collection potential here is off the scale...

Monday, 29 June 2015

Project Update June 2015

Yipeeeeeee! The Brine Shrimp Hatchery is dismantled and back in the garage till next year and the conservatory is back doing what it was built for.... Drying bread.
Before we go on, we must make one thing very clear; we are never going to surpass, or even match, the quality of the images in the last blog. Everything was just perfect; light levels, water clarity, and we just happened to be in the exact right place, with finger on camera shutter, at just the right time. So it’s all downhill from now on...... Which is why we have left it so long to do another, but here goes.
The unusually cold April and May continued to slow everything (including us).
Warmth, as well as getting the right food, and the right amount of food in them, is key to the little roach growing and developing and the cool start meant that while we could almost see them growing before our very eyes; which is usual, they weren’t doing so at the rate we are used to.
We struggled with daphnia production too, which we regard as a vital live supplement to the crumb they get when the Brine Shrimps have finished. Ordinarily, we put cabbage and cauliflower leaves in the tanks and barrels and as these begin to soften and release their fluids the daphnia bloom and we can keep cropping and depositing them in the tanks where they squirt out live young every week or so which are perfect for our young roach. This year the temperature of the water meant that all we were doing was preserving and refreshing the cabbage leaves and making them extra sweet and crunchy.
The first few weeks are always the trickiest for us, and our roach, with there being no leeway or flexibility. Once the yolk sac is taken up the little fish must have food regularly which we will hopefully have made sure there is an abundance of with induced algal blooms in all the tanks (they can’t call upon stored fat reserves).
Interestingly (or are we just being geeky again?) we have a little microscope and look at the water regularly to see the volume of little critters darting about in it, and it is astonishing how quickly our little roach clear this microscopic life from the tanks.
What is also astonishing is how everything responds to a bit of warmth and sunshine; none more than us two.
The roach begin to pack on the weight (bit like us two), the tanks green up like pea soup, the daphnia proliferate and continue supplying our roach with their protein packed live young, we can lift our heads and take a breath and let out yet another quiet sigh of relief and satisfaction.
The only thing we really have to watch and check regularly is the water quality, as warm water and roach pooh can deliver a nitrate spike that could wipe out an entire tank of fish in no time.
With everything ticking over nicely we get into our maintenance and housekeeping routine, especially around our stews at Bickton and, of course, here at Project HQ. We should get on with cleaning the mucky ‘used’ spawning boards that we have once again stacked against the garage wall, but we won’t until the last minute, as usual.
Not content to just roll with it, we are constantly listening for any Roach Project penny to drop or bright idea to light up our little brains, and thanks to the fantastic generosity of our supporters and the funds raised at our annual fundraiser doo, the financial burden of running the project is eased significantly and we are able to consider every opportunity to increase the effectiveness of our efforts.
This year we have had our eye on the reinstatement of a small lake at the head of our stews at Bickton, which we mentioned in an earlier blog.
We have now sorted the plans and gained the required consents and have had a small digger in to excavate a drainage channel to dry the bed of the lake through the summer ready for the main excavation work to start in September.
In this, we will be able to generate a full and healthy, and relatively self-sustaining, population of roach through seeding it with various ages and sizes of our own fish. We’ll start by stocking our ‘Toddlers’; remember them? These were the fish we kept back to see if we could grow adults here at Project HQ that surprised us by spawning in the tank, which triggered all kinds of additional inspirational roachy schemes and ideas. We moved these fish a couple of years ago to our large stew at Bickton where they have flourished and grown into real thumpers.
We’ll also deposit a few adults each year from the other stews just to keep the gene pool strong.
With luck and good management the roach should naturally proliferate in the lake and we’ll be able to net and crop off a percentage every few years for release into the river as they increase their own numbers, as well as collecting considerable amounts of spawn each year for depositing and hatching directly into the river.
As we do with our annual releases and spawn relocation anyway, we will do the same with what we crop from the lake and deliver to various locations far and wide, and through adult and juvenile displacement and migration along with the larval drift from the hatching of tens of thousands of eggs, the entire river will, over time, be touched by our efforts, including stretches we don’t have direct access to.
This lake will add yet another substantial string to our bow. It could turn into our very own little silver mine..... So, fingers crossed.
Good plan eh?
Once again some of our great mates at the Environment Agency have offered to come along and help, on their days off, with the rest of the preparatory clearance work ready for the ‘big dig’ later in the summer.
We’ll sign off and leave it there and let the pictures below do the rest of the talking.

Brine Shrimps out. Trev’s bread groundbait (and, of course our crumb fish feed barrels) back in..... That’s better... Three hours a day saved. Whatever will we do with our time?

Used and abused spawning boards ready to be ignored for far too long. It is interesting (Here we go again with that ‘interesting’ stuff...) that as these drain and dry they pour out all kinds of little aquatic critters and the local nesting birds, even though having never seen them before, take full advantage and introduce their young to the virtues of a seafood diet of Gammarus and various olive nymphs.

So the roach hatch, we worry, the Brine Shrimps are stopped, we worry, the roach are then fed the finest crumb size, we worry, they bulge pink as they fill themselves and begin to grow before our very eyes and we always knew there was no need to worry.

You know what we’re like on this web site; we just can’t resist a close-up of our roach, here just a few weeks old.

It’s impossible to give an idea of scale without some sort of comparable reference, so we use Trev’s sausage-fingers. The tiny roach on his middle finger is just a few days old and was one of the first we saw swimming free.

Even though still just tiny splinters of life, this image shows them at probably more than twice the size, meaning we are getting it right, but this gives some idea of just how tricky this period is for us. Getting the right amount of the right feed into these tiny creatures is vital and we only know when we are getting it wrong when some start to die, and this can be as much from over as under feeding, especially when they are on the crumb.

In a matter of just a few weeks the fish are really packing it on. This image also shows the considerable difference in sizes even at this age. Those little ones who don’t keep up will become food for the big ones.

This image shows one of the faster growers and you can clearly see the fins and tail forming nicely. A proper little Avon Roach.

I can’t believe we have actually put a picture of cabbage leaves in a tank on the internet. Still, as we said at the top of this blog post ‘Everything was just perfect; light levels, water clarity, and we just happened to be in the exact right place, with finger on camera shutter, at just the right time.’ The image does show the daphnia bloom, which is the fuzz just below the leaves.

And it gets worse. We actually took a picture through our microscope of a single daphnia. It does, however, show it full and ready to deposit dozens of live young – perfect baby roach food.

Here you can see our little roach mingling with the daphnia in the tank and enjoying the bounty of newborns.

Polar opposites in terms of scale; from daphnia to digger, but both play an equally important role. The digger begins another exciting stage in the project. Once the lake is reinstated, the roach growing potential could be off the chart.

These are our ‘Toddlers’ in stew zero at Bickton being fed. Some are over half a pound and will do very well in the lake.

These fish already supply us with spawn each year which is relocated and allowed to hatch directly in the river.

This image gives a better idea of numbers of toddlers that will begin the colonisation of the lake. If the excavation goes to plan, we’ll allow it to lay empty over winter then stock in February. This should mean that the toddlers will deliver their first lot of lake spawn in April.



Sunday, 17 May 2015

Roach Spawning and Hatching 2015

We get a bit punch-drunk at this time of year from all that has to be done, with all the fish movements from stews to river and tanks to stews, then the scrubbing and preparation of the tanks in rediness for the next lot of hatchlings. Along with an induced algal bloom, the tanks are seeded with daphnia which we grow in an assortment of bins and barrels around the garden. These thrive on the green algae (if we manage to get it going) and squirt out live young every week or so; so hopefully, by the time we have collected spawn and hatched roach in the tanks, the water will be alive with little critters for them to get started on........ Or do we think too much???
We always place the first round of spawning boards in the river in plenty of time, which is the first week in April, ready for the roach to spawn on the 25th (as they have done on four of the last six years), all the while hoping that Mother Nature will be kind to us and not run us ragged like she did last year with a monster flood, heat wave or mini ice age.
We were dealt a slight surprise this year with the unusually warm beginning to April which, coupled with the clear river, triggered the roach to commence spawning ten days early; something we had only ever known once before - so the starting pistol was fired just as we were getting ourselves into the starting blocks.
Once again, we were rendered dumbfounded as the roach throughout the river from just south of Salisbury down to Christchurch, some twenty miles apart, all began spawning on exactly the same day..... Awesome!
At one location we were treated to something we’d not seen before. In a smallish private stream behind some riverside apartments, the roach hadn’t arrived at the spawning boards, but being as the head of the stream is accessible to us all round and while we were having a coffee break with one of the owners, we noticed the roach about thirty feet below the boards nervously, but obviously on a mission, slowly moving upstream en masse.
It was clear that they seemed nervous in this open and fairly featureless part of the stream, but with an unerring urge to carry on up. They moved only about ten feet in the half hour we were there. It was amazing to watch.
We know that once they reach the boards and get going all inhibitions leave them and they just get on with it, but the approach was something we’d never witnessed. We always thought the upstream advance was a more speedy and determined affair, but then I guess that nervousness and vulnerability means caution needs to be exercised to ensure survival – and besides, what the heck do we know about all this stuff anyway?
By the afternoon of the 15th the roach were all romping away nicely, and with the unusually clear water we were able to get some really good pictures, which you can OD on below......We have!
We never tire of seeing the roach spawning and always spend time taking plenty of photographs. We regard ourselves as very lucky and the feeling of satisfaction and pride we get from seeing them spawning all over our spawning boards – something we have made from a plank and some netting, tied to a rope and chucked in the river – is indescribable (there is much more to it than that, as you know – we’re just being facetious).
Unfortunately, there is also an unpleasant side of watching roach spawning; or at least being there at the time they are spawning, and that’s seeing the remains of the night time attentions of the local otter at one location. For the last couple of years now we have seen the remains of a big roach taken while spawning. This year there was a double downer, as the day after finding the scales and fins of the big roach, we found the remains of a very big signal crayfish in the same spot, also eaten by the otter, which was in all probability grazing on the roach spawn on our boards.
(Just to set the record straight – The roach spawn at these set locations every year and the otter and the crayfish would be there regardless of whether we float a spawning board over them).
Anyway, enough of that – back to the plot...
After a few days of balmy warm sunshine and spring arriving at pace the temperature dropped like a stone, so the Speedo’s went back in the drawer and the lined trousers, thermals and woolly jumpers were reinstated.
Usually, it doesn’t matter what happens to the temperature once the roach begin spawning; once they’ve started they usually just continue for a week or more regardless. However, this year, at a couple of locations they ‘switched off’ and disappeared.
This didn’t really make much difference in terms of egg collection as we have a series of set routines all triggered by roach behaviour and time of year, but it certainly made a difference  in terms of egg development and hatching.
Hatching of the first laid usually begins some ten or twelve days after spawning; then is usually all done within the week, during which time our ‘Brine Shrimp Hatchery’ is excavated from the garage and set up in the conservatory and the live shrimps are hatched and fed according to the hatch rate and therefore volume of the requirement for food.

This year hatching has taken more than an entire additional week, as the development of eggs slowed to an almost standstill in the very cold water.
With our little happy-snap camera we can get some underwater pictures of the egg development, if we’re lucky. We usually take pictures every day once the eggs are eyed – partly because we love seeing them and can post them here and on our Facebook page, but more importantly it allows us to see when the roach begin to hatch and in what volume, as it isn’t immediately obvious as they spend the first few days just hanging from an adhesive gland on their head from the nearest inanimate object (usually the netting or underside of the spawning boards) absorbing their yolk sac before detaching and swimming free looking for food, which we need to supply them with.
From probably just short of a thousand pictures we have managed to get a couple of dozen fairly good ones, some of which we have included below.
The rise in temperature got things going again and they have all now hatched, meaning our stress levels are back on ‘Overload’ again...
We’ll leave it there and stop rambling on and let the pictures and captions below do the rest of the talking.
Please keep an eye on our Facebook page and if you haven’t done so yet then please give it a ‘like’ and a ‘share.’

The roach head upstream and gather at our spawning boards. What a fantastic sight.

Then away they go. It never ceases to amaze us just how irresistible our boards are to the roach. These are within thirty feet of a wall of fontinalis, which they completely ignore in favour of our artificial offering.

At another location, but on the same day, the roach also began spawning, and we can confirm that a few‘Avon Legends’ still exist. This isn’t a very inspiring shot unless you consider that the spawning board is nine inches wide – so how big must this roach be?

The action can be explosive...

At a couple of locations we are able to get right over the spawning roach to get shots like this.

It might all just look like a random free-for-all but it is far from it. We even see males seeming to be holding and protecting territory along the spawning boards.

It’s all a matter of getting in the right place at exactly the right time.

Then when the female releases her eggs it is an all out brawl to get in on the action.

Sometimes it seems a far gentler affair as the male tenderly rubs his tubercle covered body against the female to induce egg release. We think the texture of our netting on the spawning boards may do the same, but we’ll never know.

Sometimes the camera shutter just happens to be open at the exact right moment.

Water clarity and light levels meant that we were very lucky this year and photographing was made much easier – we still spent countless hours watching and snapping though; wouldn’t you?

It’s always good to see a few real brutes contributing spawn each year.

The camera shutter was set on ‘continuous’ and this was the same group of fish one third of a second later. This might give an indication of just how many pictures we have to take and just how bloody lucky we are.

This is one of our finest and you can see the tubercle covered male at the top actually discharging his contribution to the next generation.

The ‘light show’ sometimes is breathtaking.

Five yards downstream and another spawning board gets some attention.

This shows the sad side of it all. The two pence piece wasn’t the loose change that fell out of its pocket, but was placed there by us as a size reference. We estimate this roach to have been over two pounds – certainly more than ten years old and probably less than ten minutes to disappear...

The following day in exactly the same spot a signal crayfish taken by the otter. It was probably grazing on roach spawn.

After a few days we replace the spawning boards with fresh for the roach to continue spawning and remove the first lot of eggs. This picture shows a particularly good coverage. We have to do this to prevent the roach from overloading the spawning boards as they use them exclusively and in preference to any natural substrate. They continue spawning on the replacement almost immediately. We have even had them spawning while we are retrieving the board. It’s quite something to have roach spawning on it while you are holding on to the other end of the rope.

It usually takes between ten and twelve days for the eggs to hatch, depending on water temperature. However, as we have said above, this year has seen the cold snap prolong hatching by about a week. This picture shows the tiny fish inside the eggs within hours of popping out. Some of the eggs are no longer round as the little fish begin to straighten and force their way through the outer membrane.

And, we just had to show you another; possibly within minutes of hatching. So, a thousand pictures for just a few real corkers like this.

Then hatching commences..... And, of course, there was a camera pointing at them.

Despite having taken thousands of pictures of this Roach Project over the years, we never managed to get one of a roach actually hatching – until now. The fish just left of centre of this shot is actually backing out of the egg with its head still inside. The one below it is almost out too.

It’s when we get pictures like this, showing the roach in numbers hanging from the underside of the spawning board, that we know to get the Brine Shrimp Hatchery up and running to make sure they get plenty of feed when they need it.

One of the first to swim free – a future three pounder perhaps... It’s humbling to think that the beautiful, plump, red-finned bruisers we see spawning on our boards all started life like this. What we are doing is simply stepping in with a little help to increase the odds.

And so Brine Shrimp production gets into full swing (‘Health and Safety’ would have a field day throwing the book at us for this setup - Cables across entrance/exit points (the risk compounded by Trev’s ham-fisted clumsiness (bordering on dyspraxia), water within inchimetres of, even teetering precariously over, electric points..... Goodness; the risks we take...)... with twenty eight bottles on the go at the same time at four different stages of development which begins and ends every forty eight hours. A bottle is fed to each tank every morning and every evening for about four weeks. Brine Shrimps are the perfect protein packed mouthful for our newly hatched roach and even help stimulate their hunting instinct.... (If you can get your head around that) - It starts off as a great and exiting stage of the project, with our little roach just hatching, then seeing them take their first lot of our home-grown live food and begin to grow before our very eyes..... Then after just a couple of weeks it becomes a right pain in the bum, and we can’t wait to dismantle it all and chuck it back in the garage...

The live shrimps are siphoned off into jugs and are administered with a meat baster, meaning that only the shrimps and the salty water (which acts as a very mild anti-biotic) can be delivered to every corner of the tanks. It takes an hour and a half for each feed, which entails turning off the bubblers to the mature bottles, which allows the live shrimps to settle and be separated from the floating shells, siphoning, administering, then washing all the bottles and jugs, refilling with de-chlorinated water, salt and shrimp eggs..... No wonder we get hacked off with it...

And this is what we want to see. Tiny roach, not even a week old, bulging with pink bellies full of Brine Shrimps. It’s sights like this that makes all the grief of the Brine Shrimp production worth every second.

A nice close-up of our healthy, stuffed, little roach.

And even closer still.... We really should get a life...

This final shot really gives a good perspective of the size of these tiny little fish, seen here alongside dandelion seeds. Once we are happy that all the roach have hatched the spawning boards are removed from the tanks and chucked against the garage where they’ll be left until they stink like a baboon’s armpit before we finally get round to jet-washing them off and storing them for next year.